“Oh, typical feminist.” “Can’t handle dissenting opinions.” “Way to censor other people’s ideas!”
These were the accusations hurled at Japanese-American vlogger Marina Watanabe whenever she blocked users leaving rude and abusive comments on her YouTube channel and other social media profiles.
Pretty much any time someone – especially of a marginalised and/or minority demographic – argues against the status quo, there is a frantic scrambling to silence their voices. This is a fact.
A survey conducted last year by Norton by Symantec found that “those who were most likely to report this form of harassment were people who had disabilities or mental health issues.” Obviously, social prejudice has migrated to the virtual world as well, with the advantage of anonymity. And it has a gendered angle to it too. 41% of women internet-users from Tier 1 cities in India have faced harassment online. On Friday the 13th last year (October), Indian women boycott Twitter for a 24-hour period to protest unchecked online harassment.
And here’s the agonising bit: should you choose to withdraw to safer havens (that is, distance yourself from the aggressor) you will be held ransom by social-justice-sounding arguments! The person harassing you online will prattle on about ‘freedom of speech’ and a ‘censorship’. And before you know it, you will be labelled as a coward, a fascist, and closed-minded. It’s enough to leave anyone’s blood boiling.
In her video, Watanabe explains exactly why protecting yourself online, by blocking the aggressor, is in no way akin to censorship, or the unwillingness to engage with opposing views. She asks why she should “enable a space where people were solely calling [her] a bitch, and a cunt, and telling [her] to die.”
Why indeed should any of us continue enabling those spaces in our own corners of the internet? It is not censorship to protect yourself, and your mental peace, just as it is not freedom of speech when online aggressors abuse, defame, use photographs without consent and insult you. Don’t listen to people who suggest that blocking and reporting people is “too drastic a measure”. It’s like saying stand still while someone roughs you up in an alleyway.
The internet is yours, it is your space for creativity, kindness, learning, and connecting with stimulating thoughts, ideas and people! It is your playground, your classroom, your castle, and you have every right to defend it.